John Bowman’s RTE Radio programme is a weekly search through the sound archives. One week, the archive included a particular recollection of Irish railways.
Someone sending their personal effects by train had included a caged parrot among the items to be transported. On checking the contents of the goods wagon, a stationmaster had discovered the parrot had died and on the label attached to the cage had written, “parrot dead.” Further up the line, another stationmaster had noticed the cage with its label and, not to be outdone, had added, “parrot still dead.”
Apocryphal? Probably. But it was a tale of a character who felt compelled to say something for the sake of it.
One might be inclined to think that the BBC might have written many times on such a label, so absurd and so repetitive was their coverage of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh. As if Britain were some reincarnation of the bleakly horrible Soviet Union, the same programmes were carried on BBC 1 and BBC 2, and BBC 4 was taken off air altogether. The broadcasters assumed new airs of pomposity and false gravitas, all that was missing was hours of sombre music on every radio channel.
I met him only once, at a Duke of Edinburgh award evening at sixth form college. Three of us had put up a tent and created a camping scene, complete with baked beans warming on a gas stove. We had mixed strawberry Angel Delight into a bowl, it included dried strawberries that appeared like red lumps.
The Duke looked dubiously at the food. “What is this he asked?” pointing at the bowl.
“Angel Delight,” I replied.
“What are the lumps?” he said, “Carrots?”
As he moved on, our tutor commented, “I don’t suppose they have Angel Delight very often at Buck House.”
I remember thinking how boring the Duke’s life must have been. Countless pointless activities and dull conversations for years and years and years. Unlike the Queen, he had few duties of state to which to attend, just countless encounters with people who were probably as bored as he was.
After a lifetime of mind-numbing boredom, it was no surprise that there was the odd moment of gratuitous rudeness. Anyone who has spent hours listening to vacuous nonsense from self-important people must surely have made frequent sotto voce comments.
Had the Duke been watching the BBC last night, it would be hard to imagine he would not have become exasperated by the hours of sycophancy. His words to a photographer in 2015 might easily have been tersely paraphrased, “get on with the f***ing programmes.”